Stay Sane in An Insane World
BECOME your own best friend. “I can’t teach Tom Brady how to throw a ball,” says Greg Harden. “I can’t teach Desmond Howard how to catch the ball. I can’t teach Michael Phelps how to do a perfect flip turn. All I can do is teach you how to become the world’s greatest expert on one subject: yourself.”
The former University of Michigan Athletic Counselor Greg Harden has worked with world-class athletes like Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, Desmond Howard, and hundreds of business leaders and professionals from all walks of life and shares the cumulative wisdom from working with them in Stay Sane in An Insane World: How to Control the Controllables and Thrive.
How do you become your own best friend? There are three things high-performers have in common.
First of all, be coachable. “The first thing that Tom Brady and Desmond Howard had in common is that they were hungry for input, hungry for information, hungry to learn.”
Second is their belief in the process of self-improvement. “It’s a three-step process in which you commit to doing what it takes to make yourself better, then you do the hard work to improve your performance in EVERYTHING you do, and then you maintain that performance over time.”
The third thing is an intangible Harden calls the edge or an extra gear. It’s “the ability to turn it up when you need to, even when it feels as if you were already giving 100 percent. To decide that you’re going to win. To decide that you’re going to find a way to push yourself, and everyone else around you, to another level.”
The path to this place is what Harden repeats over and over: “Control the controllables.”
Our ability to keep functioning, both together and as individuals, as everything gets turned upside down all around us—to focus on those things that we can control when everything else seems to be spinning out of control—is more valuable right now than it has ever been.
When Tom Brady first came to Michigan, he spent a lot of time on the bench. He was discouraged, distressed, and overwhelmed. He said, “The coaches don’t believe in me.” Harden said, “You’re right. Why should they believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.” He added, “If you believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. You’ve got to believe, whether you are playing, starting, or sitting on the bench, that you are capable, you are qualified, and you are confident.”
You want to believe that the hard work of practicing, training, and rehearsing for success will give you the right mindset to turn troubled times into valuable lessons that get you closer to your goal.
“The greatest competition you’re ever going to face is yourself.” You must adapt or die. “You must train yourself to adapt to every possible circumstance, deal with any situation, use any object as a weapon to defend yourself. You adjust your thinking based on the changes that confront you. You roll with the punches. You improvise. You adapt.” Or you die. Again, the theme that runs through everything he teaches is to control the controllables.
Harden says we all need what he calls the Four A’s: Attention, Affection, Approval, and Acceptance. When you think about your purpose in life and your motivations is important to keep the Four A’s in mind because “your motivations, the human desire to satisfy those basic emotional needs, are the 4 keys to understanding which of your attitudes, and behaviors are helping you achieve your goals—and which ones are holding you back.” Self-defeating attitudes and behaviors come from trying to satisfy those needs in the wrong way.
Sportscaster James Brown once said on 60 Minutes that Harden was “Michigan’s Secret Weapon.” There is a lot of solid advice that can be applied to any of us in any area of life.
Throughout the book are inspiring testimonials from people Harden has worked with. They share where they started mentally and then what he told them, and how his insights played out in their life and careers.
Ward Manuel remembers Harden telling him that “It’s not like when something bad happens in your life, you’re supposed to stop thinking about it. It’s going to bother you; it’s going to put you back on your heels a little bit. The message is, don’t let it be the only thing that you think about. Don’t let it stop you from finding a new way forward.”
Olympic gold medal winner Samantha Arsenault suffered a serious shoulder injury while training for the Olympics that threatened to take her out of the water and derail her self-image and everyone’s expectations of her as a world-class swimmer. Harden told her: “The only thing you even have a shot at controlling is how you see yourself. How you respond to this adversity. How you reframe your own thoughts. Because thoughts are real, Samantha. And the thoughts you’ve been having, how scared you are—it’s all to be expected if you’re a human being. If you are a robot, then you get a pass. Nothing to worry about, go to the shop and get your shoulder repaired. You’re good to go. But if you’re a real human being, then what does that mean? It means you’re getting tested right now. And you have the opportunity, right now, to decide what kind of person you’re going to be. You’ve got to decide that with or without your sport, your life is going to be amazing.”
Michigan soccer player Michael Parke (now Professor Parke at the London Business School) was depressed over not getting time on the field, and he remembers Harden telling him, “This is not about soccer. This is about you becoming a man. Your job is to be as confident as you can be, regardless of what the coaches think of you. And to be ready, so that when your opportunity comes, you can take hold of it and never look back. Stop trying to change the coaches. Focus on what you can control. Control the controllables. Practice, train, and rehearse giving 100 percent until your coaches have no choice but to play you.”
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